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9 Things You Should Know Before Starting Packaging Design and Development

Good packaging is like style. It’s a way of saying who you are without having to speak. This makes the packaging design and development process extremely crucial. Some of the biggest brands are known to have received severe criticism for poor and inadequate packaging. At the same time, there are brands that have seen sales climb up rapidly due to the simple virtue of good packaging. Dove’s limited edition packaging intended towards promoting a positive body image amongst women is a classic example of packaging gone wrong. The parallel drawn between bottles and women were considered unflattering and offensive to women.

dove-packaging design and development
Dove's Limited Edition Packaging

Such debacles can be avoided by taking appropriate measures at the time of packaging design and development process.

9 Things You Should Know Before Starting Packaging Design and Development

1. Project Brief

As obvious as it may sound, one of the most important facets of the packaging design and development process is the brief. Getting the brief wrong is like starting to cook with the wrong ingredients. Any new product development involves gathering accurate requirements which are later translated into the end product through progressive transformation. However, as George Bernard Shaw rightly put it, “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” If the brief given doesn’t match the actual requirement the overall experience becomes unpleasant and the final product is way off base. To avoid this kind of a situation one must be geared with the right set of requirements before starting the packaging design & development process.

The first step towards this is to define the primary goal clearly.

For example, when a renowned oil manufacturer approached us to redesign their existing PET bottles they had a specific problem to solve. They wanted to increase the load-bearing capacity of the bottle to avoid damage during transportation. Having said that, however, putting together information on secondary variables like pack sizes, timelines, budget, target audience, deliverables etc. should not be neglected at this stage.

2. Get to Know the Product

By this time you’re starting to warm up for the task ahead of you. At the core of any packaging design and development process is the product that will be contained inside. Getting to know that product well will hold you in good stead in the long run. Where does the product come from? What is the need for the product? What is the USP of the product? Answering all these questions would help identify the soul of the product which in turn would be reflected in the design of the final packaging.

For example, when Liso Chocolatier came to us with a packaging design problem, we answered all these questions in detail. What this resulted into was packaging that brought out the artisan character of the spreads on to the label so the packaging could convey the vision of the founders. With this approach, Liso was able to differentiate its product from other chocolate spreads on the retail shelf.

3. Know Your Target Group

The Kinder Joy packaging obviously isn’t a coincidence. It was designed keeping in mind the target audience in question - children of a specific age-group.

Kinder Joy Packaging for Children
Kinder Joy Packaging for Children

Customer is king’ may be a cliche but is also a stark truth. The target group is one of the most dominant pieces while putting together the packaging puzzle.

There is only one winning strategy. It is to carefully define the target market and direct a superior offering to that target market.

Knowing your target group helps you know who they are, their interests, their aspirations, their needs etc. In the case of Kinder Joy, the packaging is designed to appeal to it’s younger target audience. With its usability and visual communication, the packaging is seamlessly blended as part of the product experience.Additionally, factors like pack size, material, and budget can all be derived by knowing the target audience. Louis Vuitton would never have packaging made from a flimsy material that may wear out easily. For a similar reason, making bulky shampoo packs for people who travel often would be a disaster.  Having an in-depth understanding of the target group can go a long way while designing any packaging.

4. Channel Chosen to Sell the Product

The packaging of a product is dictated by the channel on which it will be sold on. Packaging meant for a mom and pop store is different from packaging for a supermarket or an online store. Therefore it is imperative that you must have clarity on the channel and the lifecycle of the product till the time it reaches the hands of the customer.

For example, when we started to design a festive pack for Cadbury meant for the e-commerce channel, the dynamics of the project were drastically different from that of retail packaging. Here, apart from the usual dynamics, we had to take into consideration aspects of last mile delivery. This was critical for a perishable product like chocolate where the integrity of the actual product may be compromised. Elements that enabled this design were the gel packs, the material of the box, and the chocolate moulds.

cadbury-packaging design and development
Cadbury Festive Packaging for Rakhi

On the other hand of the spectrum, the space available on the label of a package is crucial in the case of retail packaging. Therefore introducing design ideas that help leverage the label space is always a welcome change. An example of this is IML tubs used by Amul to package their butter. Some advantages of adopting in-mold labeling are – more branding space on the label with high print quality, shorter production time, lower production cost, and higher resistance to external wear and tear.

packaging challenges -in-mold-labeling by Amul
In-Mold Labeling

5. Learn From Your Competitors

It rarely ever happens that there isn’t a competitor in the market selling products which are similar to yours. Hence you can almost be sure that there’ll be others like you on the shelf and you’ll have to compete for shelf impact. In a situation like this, I’ve sometimes seen brands do one of these two things. First - they invest all their expectations in the poor designer hoping to get something different. Second - they mimic their competition so literally that the target group cannot make out the difference between the two brands.  Here, taking the middle path is more strategic.

While you should leave the innovation for the designers, you should also learn from your competitors. They are the only ones whose knowledge of your business might be on par with you. A thorough competitive analysis will help you understand what is likely to work in the market. More so, what does not and may not work. You don’t have to make the same mistakes your competitors made.

When we did the competitive analysis for Liso Chocolatier the most important insight we got is that all the packaging on the shelf reflected the “me too” personality. What was even more surprising was each of these individual products was evidently different from the other in their taste. This goes on to reflect the absence of product character while designing the packaging. Therefore, competitive analysis adds value to the process and gives you a great starting point to start weaving your thoughts around and prepare for the shelf impact you’re envisioning.

Liso Packaging
Liso Chocolate Spread

6. Packaging Design vs Packaging Redesign  

There’s always that one new person on the team who comes and moves everything around while in the new job fervor. While the hustle may be well-meant this usually ends up in the team resenting the new person in question. Why does this happen? Well, it is pretty straightforward. The human brain is wired to resist change. Hence any new change is usually dealt with negative emotions resulting in resistance.

Packaging is no different. Conditioning your customer to the packaging of a new product is simple if you’ve got the basics correct. However, conditioning them to a redesigned package is a different ball game altogether. Hence, the golden rule is to approach packaging redesign projects differently. A fitting example of packaging redesign gone wrong is Tropicana. PepsiCo invested 35 million dollars in an advertising campaign to promote new packaging for the fruit juice brand. While the sales initially saw a significant uplift, the buzz, as well as the sales, eventually saw a dip.  

tropicana-packaging design and development
Tropicana Packaging Redesign

Why did this happen? Tropicana is a straightforward case of not differentiating between a packaging design and packaging redesign project. They changed everything from the logo on the pack to the lid to the visuals on the packaging. The massive change triggered resistance amongst the loyalists of the best-selling orange juice in America. Rest as we know is history. Within 2 months of its release, Pepsico went back to the original packaging to avoid further damage.

Pro Tip - Know exactly why you are redesigning your packaging and if you can help it, introduce design changes gradually.

7. Do You Want the Packaging to be Functional?

By now you are deep into the process of conceptualizing your packaging design and development process. So before the actual design process starts you might want to agree on the functionality of the packaging. A question to answer in this regard is - to what extent is functionality essential in my packaging? An Amazon box, which is usually a secondary or tertiary packaging, only fulfills the function it is meant for, protecting the product inside it while it is being transported from one place to another.

However, it doesn't have to be like that. Heinz, for example, innovated its ketchup bottle design to make it more convenient for the end user. Hence came the upside down bottle that drove the sales up by 6% in one year.

Heinz-packaging design and development
Heinz Packaging Innovation

Another example of functional packaging is the biodegradable and spill-proof meal tray which we developed in-house and which also won the international Dieline award. The tray designed for Indian food ensures that the contents in each individual compartment do not spill over to any other compartment. Here the functionality is not really an option but a necessity.  

8. Types of Tests Possible

Before starting the design process, you may also want to identify the tests that you would need to conduct to measure the integrity of the packaging. This is important as along with identifying the tests you can also determine the most cost-effective ways to fulfilling these tests. Testing that may be required at various stages.

  • Material Testing - Here you must test if the material in question is suitable for the packaging or not. For example in the case of acidic food products the material of choice would be one that does not corrode. This will have to be verified through testing.
  • Machine Trials - At this stage, you’ll want to test whether the available machinery for the packaging products is fulfilling the manufacturing requirement as per the specifications. Usually, this testing involves manufacturing of a sample batch of products and then qualifying it as per the given specifications.
  • Transit Trials - Lastly, you will want to consider how the packaging is performing during transit by conducting actual trials along the expected route of the package.

Some of the tests involved here are

  • Drop Test
  • Vibration Test  
  • Inclined Impact Test

9. Is Sustainability a Point of Consideration?

With environmental concerns on the rise globally, sustainable packaging is forming a significant portion of the packaging design and development agenda. Brands are continually exploring ways to incorporate sustainable packaging into their product lifecycle. Currently, our experience in the packaging industry tells that sustainable packaging is generally associated with cost intensiveness. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

For example, Puma’s Clever Little Bag is a great example of packaging responsibly without actually increasing associated costs.

Puma - sustainable packaging design
Puma's Clever Little Bag

Yes, I know. These are just the things you need to know before you start the packaging development process. Some may find this level of detail futile, some may find it overwhelming, and then again some will consider reading it and then forget all about it. However, after managing multiple projects for clients in various industries I can say one thing with certainty, do not disregard the value of planning ahead. After all, as it has been famously said -

Make time for planning. Wars are won in the general’s tent

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